In previous decades, the umbilical cord connecting the baby to the placenta was typically cut and discarded as medical waste. This has changed thanks to researchers discovering that umbilical cord blood is a valuable source of stem cells. Many parents, doctors, and researchers are eager to preserve cord blood and cord tissue for later use.
The stem cells found in the umbilical cord have the potential to save the lives of people with serious conditions like sickle cell disease and leukaemia. Researchers also believe stem cells can be used for regenerative medicine, where organs, ligaments, muscles, skin, and other tissues are restored or replaced.
While stem cell treatments have been widely reported in recent years, it hasn’t all been good news. Some companies have been accused of delivering unproven stem cell treatments to patients. Unfortunately, these unscrupulous operators have tarnished the reputation of other stem cell companies who are delivering scientifically-proven treatments.
In reality, there are thousands of stories of stem cells saving the lives of people with cancer, immune system disorders or blood disorders. This is why so many parents now opt to preserve their child’s cord blood stem cells.
However, there are two main challenges for parents seeking to save their child’s cord blood. The primary challenge is that some obstetricians believe that delayed clamping of the umbilical cord is required to give the child the best start in life. This can result in a reduced number of stem cells being collected.
Research has shown that a 1-minute delay in clamping will result to a transfer of about 80ml of blood into the infant, with more than 100ml of blood left for cord blood banking. The recommended times for delayed cord clamping are:
- Between 1 to 3 minutes – World Health Organization (WHO)
- 30 seconds to 2 minutes – Royal College of Surgeons (RCOG)
- 30 seconds to 60 seconds – The American College of OB-GYNs (ACOG)
The second challenge is the cost of banking. Some parents do not think that the cost of using a private cord blood bank is worth the money. However, private cord blood banking is the only way to maintain complete control over a child’s umbilical cord stem cells. The good news is that the growing number of cord blood banks means prices are dropping rapidly.
Cord blood stem cells have now been used to perform over 40,000 transplants worldwide. This high figure confirms the importance of preserving this valuable biological resource.
Dr. Hal Broxmeyer, a professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine who was at the forefront of cord blood stem cell research, suggests private cord blood banking is worth the money. Dr. Broxmeyer says that cord blood is valuable because it is easy to collect and the immature stem cells cord blood contains are easier to transplant as there is less risk of immune system rejection.
Dr. Broxmeyer believes that parents should store their children’s cord blood stem cells not just for access to the many current stem cell treatments — but for the new treatments that will be developed in coming years.